Board approves going to court to obtain land for new school


Education Beat

September 25, 2005|By HANAH CHO

After a last-ditch effort to acquire a small piece of land vital to construction of an elementary school in Ellicott City, the Howard County Board of Education will move forward with condemnation proceedings.

The school board last week unanimously approved a resolution that would give Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin authority to pursue this process in court. The proceedings could take more than a year.

The school system tried in the past two weeks to reach an agreement with J. Chris Pippen, the developer who owns the 1.3 acres on Montgomery Road. The land would provide an access road to the school, which is to open in August 2007, officials said.

The school board was set to vote on condemnation earlier in the month but pulled the item off the agenda to try one last time to reach an agreement with the owner.

Cousin told the board that the school system's attempt was fruitless, and he recommended that the board proceed with condemnation to ensure that the new elementary school opens on time. Cousin said the school system offered Pippen fair market value for the land and noted that other factors also played a role in the lack of an agreement.

One point of contention, said Ray Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, was Pippen's request to use the planned access road via property owned by the YMCA. Pippen plans to build a senior housing complex on land adjacent to the YMCA property.

The nonprofit organization denied Pippen's request, Cousin said.

Pippen's property is the last of five parcels needed to begin construction on the school. In the spring, the school system reached an agreement with the YMCA of Central Maryland and VFW Post No. 7472 and acquired about 22 acres for the school.

The school system has reached agreement with property owners of two pieces of land on Montgomery Road, across from the Long Gate Shopping Center, Brown said.

Pippen did not returned phone messages Friday.

School board members said condemnation is the last course of action when an agreement cannot be reached.

"It's in the best interest of the public to proceed with condemnation even though we regret taking this action," said Courtney Watson, chairman of the school board.

`It's wearing on me'

Parents are not the only ones wishing another round of redistricting was over.

David C. Drown, the system's manager of school planning, made his intentions clear to parents who gathered last week at Centennial High School to hear about a preliminary proposal to fill a new elementary school in Dayton.

After telling two dozen parents that the Board of Education is scheduled to make its decision Nov. 22, he noted, "I'll be a happy camper because the process will be over for another year. It's wearing on me."

Since he took the job of coming up with redistricting maps in 2001, Drown has been at the front-end of criticism and angry outcries by parents.

Drown told parents that he understands their frustrations and reassured them that the difficult process is not just about making numbers work.

56 from Gulf Coast

As of last week, the school system has enrolled 56 displaced students, who escaped the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"The number has increased every day," Cousin told the school board last week.

School officials also have hired two teachers from the Gulf Coast area.

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